Three Day Family Chattanooga Vacation
Day One Morning: You’ll want to make the Tennessee Aquarium your first stop in Chattanooga. It opens at 10 a.m. and takes a minimum of two hours to explore. Ticket prices include both buildings! Along your journey you’ll see cuddly penguins and otters, creepy alligators and sturgeon and hundreds of fluttering butterflies in the rooftop garden. But for a chance to actually touch some of the animals head to Ranger Rick’s Backyard Safari. Watch one of the largest owls in the world take flight or pet a legless lizard at this free, behind-the-glass exhibit. Shows are offered daily in the River Journey building at 10:45 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 12:45, p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to kid-friendly Mellow Mushroom or Big River Grille for a melt-down free lunch.
Day One Afternoon: If your little ones still have boundless energy, take a stroll across the Walnut Street Walking Bridge – one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. Across the river is the Northshore historic district, which offers several boutiques, art galleries and, various restaurants.
Head down to Coolidge Park to run around on the expansive green lawn and ride the beautifully restored 100-year-old carousel. If it’s hot, expect to see local kids playing in the water play fountain. There are places to change if you feel like packing suits.
Day One Evening: Options abound for dinner, but some kid-friendly spots include Good Dog, a restaurant devoted to hot dogs topped with fresh, local ingredients, and Taco Mamacita, which offers exceptionally fresh tacos, enchiladas and margaritas. Both are located on the Northshore. For downtown choices, Sticky Fingers barbeque is a good bet, as is Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria in the Bluffview district.
Day Two Morning: With images of river sturgeon and catfish still dancing in their heads, a water tour will be well received by little explorers. Chattanooga Ducks offers a kid-centric tour that winds through downtown streets before plunging into the Tennessee River for a cruise around Maclellan Island. The amphibious tour is made possible by the DUKW boat, nicknamed Duck, which was used in WWII for water landings. Corny jokes and duck-billed noise makers come standard with every trip. The Southern Belle boasts panoramic views of the riverfront and Lookout Mountain aboard a vintage steamboat. Take a leisurely cruise and learn about the Tennessee River's history, legends, and places. For lunch, try Blue Plate Restaurant; its large green space in front is good for blowing off steam while waiting for a table.
Day Two Afternoon: Journey to the Chattanooga Zoo for a trip through an African forest, South American jungle and Himalayan Passage. In addition monkeys, jaguars, snow leopards and red pandas you can get up close with animals from this continent. You can even feed an African pygmy goat. Touring the zoo takes about an hour to hour and a half. If you have small children, it’s more like 45 minutes.
Next head to the Creative Discovery Museum, where kids can splash in a manmade “river,” dig for dinosaur bones in the sand or make beautiful music with a Djembe or auto harp. A three-story Lookout Tour provides a bird’s eye view of downtown, or kids can hoist themselves up with the simple pulleys and levers at the Rooftop Fun Factory. Smaller children (0-4) have their own play area complete with a kitchen, train set and tree house but will enjoy the entire museum (at their own pace).
Or if pure fun is what your after just 15 minutes from Downtown Chattanooga is a classic American Amusement Park loaded with fun for the whole family. Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park (open April-October) is the South's favorite amusement park and has added SOAKya water park (open memorial day weekend to labor day weekend).
Day Two Evening: For dinner, Lupi’s Pizza is kid-friendly but also appealing to adult palates thanks to local ingredients and a substantial beer selection. If you’re seeking something a little more upscale, try Beast+Barrel. Adults will enjoy the seasonal menu featuring the best of what local farms have to offer, you must try the filet mignon.
If you have older ones in tow, a movie at the Majestic 12 is always a crowd pleaser. But for all ages, High Point Climbing and Fitness offers indoor and outdoor climbing right in the heart of Downtown with special section for kids that's unlike any other. One of Chattanooga's newest must do attractions!
Day Three: Options abound if you plan to spend three or more days in Chattanooga. Once you’ve hit the highlights of downtown, Chattanooga’s many area attractions are worth the drive. A great all-day excursion is Lookout Mountain, which features one of the world’s steepest passenger trains, the nation’s largest and deepest waterfall and a chance to see seven states. If you want to devote the day to it, a triple play pass is the way to go which grants access to the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls and Rock City. At the foot of the Incline, Clumpie's Ice Cream is a Chattanooga institution, featuring unique made-from-scratch flavors!
If you have any train buffs in the family, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a must-see. Located off Highway 153, this moving museum offers several ways to ride the rails. Smaller children will enjoy the Missionary Ridge Local, a 15-minute ride the East Chattanooga station where passengers disembark to watch a 17thcentury turntable in action. Once turned around riders re-board to return to the main station, passing back through the famous Missionary Ridge tunnel, completed in 1858. The entire trip takes less than an hour. Bigger kids may enjoy longer rides, which can span six to eight hours roundtrip and journey to North Georgia (most include a long layover for exploring). If you opt for a shorter ride, grab lunch at Countryside Café for a made-from-scratch country meal with all the fixin’s, then head to Imagination Station in Collegedale, an expansive playground with picnic area and bike trails.
For a complete outline of regional highlights head to Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways. The Tanasi Trail or Pie in the Sky routes outline virtually every attraction in the Tennessee Valley.